The net is not the club

With mp3 to cybernetic capitalism

Until recently, the internet was above all a mythical place where one could deposit one’s utopias at will. Left anarchists found here a space free of domination, a temporary autonomous zone, thought lost forever. Right-wing anarchists ("libertare") summarily declared the network to be the epitome of the "free" global market, whose structures corresponded to flat hierarchies and made every netizen a producer and broker of information. What has been nothing more than a matter of faith for a few years has turned into a real conflict over control of the channels – and a lot of money. Paradoxically, the new economic forms forming on the basis of the net are increasingly using the tools, features and socio-cultural forms that had just been considered revolutionary and a threat to the entertainment industries, even if the specific characteristics of digital technology appear for a moment to be a problem.

Since not only texts and images but also audio files can be transported in acceptable quality via the internet, global markets are at stake. The classic big players in the entertainment industry are increasingly confronted with the fundamental problem of the digital through mp3: every copy is as original as the original. Audio pirates have with mp3 the ultimate tool at hand, while musicians can easily start their own independent labels. "A band can become like a broadcaster", declared public enemy rapper chuck d in this sense and thus reformulated the old insight that on the net all senders and receivers are in principle equal. Because the idea of the temporary autonomous zone internet is just as real as its antithesis of the marketplace of the future. (who is now the public enemy?)

While a cd burner like the good old cassette recorder is only locally effective, with mp3 sound files of almost cd quality can now be put on the net and downloaded by anyone. Digital sounds are not only easy to copy, but can be transported from here to there via the web with just one click. The music industry has long neglected the home computer as an intimate interface between the net and the consumer, selling mablos overpriced cds instead – probably the real reason for the stagnation the industry laments. While the introduction of the cd promised rich profits for the intermediaries between musicians and consumers due to lower production costs, mp3 now made the intermediary activity of the large corporations basically obsolete, if one disregards the marketing power of the industry, which keeps the pop machine running. If sampling became the most important cultural technique in the 90s, digital formats are currently revolutionizing the distribution of pop culture.

"Mp3 is a technology they can’t pimp"

Also public enemy, themselves masters of sampling, fought with mp3 now the power online. When polygram announced the release of the remix album "bring the noise 2000" permanently postponed, chuck d. Unceremoniously put mp3 files of the tracks on the net. On www.Public enemy.Com you could now get for free exactly what the industry withheld from the fans. From a legal point of view public enemy had become pirates of their own works.

The polygram tracks have long since disappeared from the net, but public enemy could still live in the knowledge that they were at the forefront of anti-corporatism. They offered their single "swindler’s lust", a tirade against the music industry, for free download:

"If you don’t own the master, the master owns you."

As long as you don’t own the master tape of your own recordings, you remain a slave. Because in the end the legal properties of formats are more important than the technical ones, and the real beneficiaries of such copyrights are often not the artists themselves. The representatives of the music industry are therefore for chuck d. They are nothing else than pimps, i.E. Ticketholders. The new format, however, is the end of such exploitative relationships: "mp3 is a technology they can’t pimp." (while technology thus became both a means and an object of political debate for public enemy, the undertones remained the same: in order to formulate their critique of capitalism and the monopolization of distribution power, pe also resorted to the agitation of "swindler’s lust" the old anti-semitic stereotypes will return.)

Hard times for rebels

The "pimps" in turn, did not remain indifferent in the face of the threat, and recoiled. In 1999, the german music industry alone loved hundreds of internet sites that offered pirated copies in mp3 format; napster, mp3.Com and other file-sharing platforms have been hit with lawsuits. In the struggle for the power of definition of the new phenomenon, the industry brought the discourse killer "piracy" in attack. The alleged losses of the industry due to mp3 are probably mainly virtual ones. Money earned when all users of, say, an illegal metallica file paid for it. Whether they actually paid for it when they had to is another question.

The battle against new technologies is as old as the entertainment industry itself. No matter whether the printing of scores in the 19. In the twentieth century, the invention of the gramophone or the cassette recorder – the music industry always claimed that their existence was now threatened. In fact, however, every new technology has been successfully integrated into the structures of industry. The powerful recording industry association of america (riaa) installed its own organization, the secure digital music initiative (sdmi), as the guardian of the digital age "intellectual property" of the multinational. Where text, image, video and sound merge as binary code on the net, the category of property, which can be described by the adjective "truth," really finds itself "intellectual" schmuckt. Intellectual property is the legal terminology which, against the background of digital communication networks, is intended to make possible the further exploitation of products which have already been profitably marketed elsewhere. (good bye sdmi!)

"To break code is to break the law"

If the idea of intellectual property may still seem plausible with regard to cultural products, its categorical questionability is revealed at the latest when human genes are patented as inventions. Or even the entire gene pool of a few hundred square kilometers of amazonian jungle under the banner of the "intellectual property" can be privatized. So one can ask oneself what right is actually at stake when copyright is mentioned. By definition, culture does not belong to everyone? For richard stallman, a pioneer in the field of free software, the music industry has long lost its status as a socially necessary structure. Whereas in the past it was needed to enable as many people as possible to enjoy music, it has now degenerated into an organization that is indifferent to musicians and consumers alike. The musicians whose copyrights are allegedly being disputed usually do not receive royalties until their products actually make money. The immense expenses for marketing, i.E. The production of publicity, are charged to the musicians as a quasi-advance. So ultimately it is they who bear the risk, while the record companies are on the safe side of the actual copyright owners.

With the free distribution of music over the internet, stallman argues, enough publicity was created for bands to become far less dependent on record companies. Similar to the question of the collective heritage of the genetic information of the rainforest ecosystem, the debate, according to stallman, must therefore not be conducted on a legal level, but on the question of social relevance.

But the monopolists of the culture industry are only interested in society as a conglomerate of target groups. Sdmi has therefore been trying for some time and with all its might to impose a new, copy-protected format in order to re-monopolize the distribution channels. This promptly earned it heavy criticism from the electronic frontier foundation, a lobbying organization of internet companies with a libertarian, hippie tradition. She believes that the secure software formats in combination with new hardware will lead to a closed loop, in which the free copying of audio files will basically no longer be possible. (cracking copy protection then becomes a cybercrime, which the content industries define as follows, according to lawrence lessig: "to break code is to break the law".) at the end of the development, it will be understood that any copying of an audio file, even for home use, is already a copyright infringement. In contrast, the eff argued that audio is a primary means of expression: "speech’ is audio, and without free audio we had no freedom of speech," explained eff spokesman john perry barlow. (free speech versus copyright)

Barlow was a member of the california hippie commune the grateful dead, who always encouraged their fans to make and distribute bootlegs of their music. And this apparently not only didn’t hurt the grateful dead, but created, among other things, the basis for the well (whole earth ‘lectronic link) that emerged in the 1980s. Well was based on a bulletin board system and thus allowed the mutual exchange of information. The well virtual community is considered one of the roots of the internet’s grassroots culture. Bootlegging and bbss had created a model of giftonomy that helped define early net culture. (from net criticism to the politics of code)

Internet-specific business models

In 1999, the riaa suffered a setback. It lost a lawsuit in which it tried to ban the production of an mp3 walkman. The product sold under the name rio allows mp3s to be downloaded directly into a portable device. Rio is therefore a "recording council", the riaa had unsuccessfully claimed that. However, even if the closed circulation model cannot be implemented flatly through secure formats, or at least its enforcement remains problematic, it can still serve as a model: closed circulation then appears in the form of the closed environment of consumer communities. The takeover of napster by bertelsmann and its transformation into a closed club points the way towards. Similar thing is happening at the moment with the installation of game clubs on the net.

The gift economy installed by anti-copyright hippies thus inspires internet-specific business models that do not have to solve the digital problem of indistinguishability of original and copy by legal means. Instead, with "virtual communities" imitate the historically grown social architectures of the net and combine mutual file sharing among users with contemporary marketing technologies. Such communities can function, on the one hand, as marketplaces for goods of all kinds and, on the other hand, as databases that gain their input from the behavior of their users.

With the introduction of cassette records, the industry had already felt compelled to point its moral finger against the rampant use of dangerous duplication devices. At that time they printed the warning "home taping is killing music" to the inside covers of records. At that time, punk saw itself, among other things, as a response to the monopolistic policy of the corporations. Independent labels were founded and their own slogans were printed: "home taping is killing the music industry, keep up the good work!" in the early eighties, however, the multinational entertainment corporations were relatively quick to re-design punk as new wave and to incorporate the independents as subcontractors. The industry is now doing something similar with the autonomous zones of mutual exchange on the net. The independent production of music and the model of virtual community are brought together to create new forms of digital distribution. Here one can positively refer to the traditions of net culture: to each his own station, exchange is everything. The new models of music distribution via the net, which were presented in different variations at the last popkomm, deliberately operate below the level of the well-known star products and focus on unknown bands and producers by offering the latter platforms for publication.

Loopnet, founded in 1999 as a digital extension of the small hamburg drum+bass label donq.De, for example, is a platform that provides free mp3s to promote young artists. This practice was called by the german phonoverband at that time still "whirlwind madness" called. Recently launched loopnet.De but together with emi www.Urbancutz.De. The forum for the hip-hop community naturally includes an mp3 database. There young talents present themselves to an interested audience, which consists among others of the talent scouts of emi.

Self-promotion competition

Concepts like urbancutz.De has the advantage for record companies that they don’t have to rely only on the good taste of their own trend scouts, but can get exact data on audience reactions. The idea of a platform for unknown artists was launched last year by peoplesound.Com has been successfully implemented in the uk, at least in terms of site visits, and has since been extended to local sites in france and germany. The company was founded by a group of managers, all of whom had previously worked for music industry heavyweights, who raised a total of $75 million in venture capital for the startup. Peoplesound even pays artists who are accepted by the company’s experts an advance of 160 euros on their first cd sold through the site. The idea of the start-up is simple and network-friendly: firstly, there is enough "creative people", who fall through the cracks of the traditional entertainment structures. Secondly, there are enough people who can’t find what they are looking for because they don’t have an overview, don’t have time or live in suburbia. Thirdly, consumers, talents and talent scouts meet on this way.

The desired music is found by searching for genres, moods or well-known stars to which the new artists are assigned. Users will find at least two free mp3s for every project, and soon they will be able to compile their own cds for a fee. Musicians decide on their own pricing policy for their own sales cds and do not have to submit to exclusive contracts. Whoever wins in the direct competition of self-promotion can then be read by the majors from the net and promoted through the old channels.

If concepts such as peoplesound were to catch on, the structure of the music industry would be allowed to change. Smart start-ups compensate for the inability of the big players to adapt quickly enough to the new distribution channels. Upgrading to "smarter" forms of marketing is the key, the result a form of cybernetic capitalism: with the help of the techniques of data mining and the tracking of user behavior, supply and demand nestle together with every mouse click. The patterns of users’ desires and preferences that can be derived from this coincide with "personalized" forms of distribution in an almost organic feedback process. Digital pop culture is then defined as the relationship between users and network technology, as an endless loop of interconnected suggestions, expectations and info-objects. "For recording artists and songwriters, we hope to realize napster’s full potential as a promotional vehicle while protecting their interests", andreas schmidt, ceo of bertelsmann ecommerce group, explained the napster deal in this sense. Mp3 crisis solved, music industry updated.

In 1991, when hakim bey proposed his theory of the "temporary autonomous zone" the concept was not only welcomed by net activists, but also seemed to be applicable to the networks of techno producers, party organizers, djs and dancers in illegal clubs. Techno played out the disappearance from the cultural-industrial surfaces formulated by bey above all in post-socialist berlin, where the party materialized anew every night in squatted houses, abandoned factory halls and basements, only to disappear again. Such a culture can hardly be simulated within virtual communities. The long-established independent berlin techno label elektro may thus be right in so far as it insists on the relevance of the club on its recently released cd and agitates against the net:

"It’s the game again. It’s about accumulation and isolation. It’s the opposite of a club. And we wished you rather did the opposite of the internet, but if you don’t, enjoy it anyway."

Perhaps it is indeed time for the hint that there is an outside the net, even if the "club", which is the "net" is to inherit, also seems to be more myth than social practice at the moment.

This text was first published in a modified version and in english in the reader for the event net.Congestion published.

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